Alappuzha: A Los Angeles Times report of Thursday says booze is the lifeblood of Kerala. The article by its reporter Mark Magnier after his Kerala visit says alcohol abuse is linked to 44% of the state’s road accidents, 19% of government hospital cases and 80% of divorces.
The report also says alcohol has long enjoyed a prominent role in Kerala's culture and the lives of local luminaries. These include movie director John Abraham, who fell off a building and died after reportedly having one too many, and self-proclaimed "poet from the gutters" A. Ayyappan, who roamed the streets in an inebriated state, sleeping at bus stops. He died after he was found unconscious near a railroad track.
The reporter observes that the exact origin of Kerala's toddy culture is lost in an alcoholic fog, but 18th century workers and landowners sharing a drink after work — unthinkable in more caste-bound regions — and getting sloshed together during major religious festivals was quite common. A century later, one historical record speaks of rich landowners "debauched and irregular in their habits and prone to eating [meat] and drinking strong liquors”.
The report also says Kerala has the nation's highest per-capita consumption of toddy, wine, hard liquor and other varieties of booze, at seven quarts of pure alcohol annually.
“Although that's less than America's 10 quarts and Russia's 17, according to the World Health Organization, it's nearly double India's national average”, it says.
Although liquor consumption grew by 16% in 2010-11, that can be explained by legal liquor sales muscling out illegal liquor that sometimes kills people, it says, adding the $1 million spent annually on alcohol moderation programmes reflects the company's social responsibility mission, although he acknowledged that critics have a point.
“Kerala state's dependence on alcohol revenue echoes the British colonial era”, it says. In the late 19th century, imperial rulers sharply raised toddy taxes, encouraging people to switch to more addictive, higher-octane and also highly taxed arrack, a distilled 34-proof brew made from fruit or grain, which stuffed state coffers and spurred alcoholism”.
Meanwhile, Indian archaeologists note that references to alcohol date back to at least 4,000 years, while passages in the Vedas or Hindu scriptures, written around 1500 BC refer to sura, a country liquor. By the time of Jesus, prosperous traders in what is now Kerala were importing wine from Rome, it says.
Actor N.L. Balakrishnan has also found a place in the report, which says drinkers in the state have found their champion in Balakrishnan, 70, an actor in about 200 films, who founded the pro-drinking group Forum for Better Spirits in 1983.
The report ends by highlighting his group's manifesto that raises a glass to the experienced inebriate, calling for subsidized alcohol prices for the elderly and free booze for drinkers older than 90.